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Cassiodorus – The Moral Virtues of the Soul

 Frontispiece showing

Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus

(seated opposite Theodoric),

fol. 2r of Leiden ms. vul. 46

(Gesta Theodorici), Manuscript on vellum.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA is a quote from Cassiodorus’ work: ‘On the Soul’, published after his ‘Institutions of Divine and Secular Learning’ (543-555 AD.), Liverpool University Press, 2004. Page 256. Cassiodorus in his ‘Institutions’ develops a whole program of education involving the seven liberal arts, the quadrivium and the trivium. English translation from the original Latin by professor James W. Halporn.


VII. The Moral Virtues of the Soul

First of all, the rampart of justice is set against evil and injustice. Its composition, as the ancient chose to set it down, is as follow: Justice is a state of the soul maintained for the common good, which gives to each it’s due. Against confusion and uncertainty, prudence is usefully employed and prudence is the true knowledge of good and evil. Against misfortune as well as good luck, fortitude mans a deliberate assumption of risk and a steadfast endurance of difficulties. Furthermore, against illicit delights and the pleasures of passion, temperance comes to our aid as moderator, and temperance is the strong and regulating governor of passion and other improper desires of the soul. Thus, by these safeguards, vouchsafed by divine gifts, the health of the soul, surrounded as it were by a fourfold breastplate, is protected in this deadly world: something that deserved so much protection cannot be attacked by vices.


But this fourfold glory of virtues is, if I may say so, completed by a three-part division. The first part is contemplation that develops the penetration of our mind to perceive the subtlest matters. The second is judgement that handles the distinction of good and evil through rational assessment. The third is memory where matters considered and reflected on are placed in the innermost recesses of the mind in a faithful trust so that we may keep in some receptacle, as it were, what we have drunk in by frequent meditations. Our safes, when they have been filled, cannot hold more: this treasury is not weighted down by its load, but when it has stored much, will seek more because of the desire to know. We have struck the above-mentioned part as though they were a tree-note harmony for such number delights the soul and makes Divinity rejoice…’


Original Latin


‘Primum aduersum praua uel iniqua iustitiae munimen obiectum est cuius, ut ueteres definire uoluerunt, talis noscitur esse complexio. Iustitia est habitus animi, pro communi utilitate seruatus, suam cuique tribuens dignitatem. Contra confusa et incerta prudentia utiliter adhibetur. Prudentia uero est rerum bonarum et malarum uerax scientia. Contra aduersa uel prospera remedialis opponitur fortitudo. Fortitudo autem est considerata periculorum susceptio et laborum firma perpessio. Contra delectationes igitur illicitas et uoluptates feruidas moderatrix nobis temperantia suffragatur. Temperantia quippe est aduersus libidinem atque alios non rectos impetus animi firma et moderata dominatio. His igitur munitionibus diuina opitulatione concessis, uelut quadruplici thorace circumdata, in hoc mundo mortifero salus animae custoditur nec potest a uitiis adiri quae tanta meruit tuitione uallari.


Sed hoc uirtutum quadripertitum decus trina (ut ita dixerim) parte completur. Prima est contemplatio quae aciem nostrae mentis extendit ad res subtilissimas intuendas. Secunda, iudicialis quae discretionem boni malique rationabili aestimatione pertractat. Tertia, memoria, cum res inspectae atque deliberatae in animi penetrabilibus fida commendatione reponuntur ut, quasi in quodam conceptaculo, suscipiamus quae frequenti meditatione combibimus. Vestiaria nostra, cum fuerint plena, nihil capiunt; hoc thesaurarium non grauatur oneratum sed, cum multa condiderit, sciendi desiderio plus requirit. Tetigimus supradictas partes quasi harmoniam tricordem: tali enim numero delectatur anima; ipso noscitur gaudere diuinitas…

Professor James Werner Halporn, Professor Emeritus of Classics, Indiana; Associate in Classics, Harvard. (January 14, 1929 — November 13, 2011).


More about Cassiodorus: 🌿 More about the book and the publishers: 🌿 Latin text source:🌿 / More about James Werner Halporn: 🌿And :—-november-13-2011
Cassiodorus – The Moral Virtues of the Soul

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